The Miami Heat just had no answer for the Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray show in Game 3 on Wednesday.
Jokic dropped 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, the first 30-20-10 game in NBA Finals history, as the Nuggets took a 2-1 series lead thanks to a 109-94 win.
The first quarter was as even as it could be for both sides as it ended 24-24, but it foreshadowed what was to come with Jokic already logging 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists. But while Jokic will understandably grab the headlines, the Heat struggled to contain his running mate Jamal Murray, too.
Murray by the end of the first quarter recorded eight points and three assists en route to finishing the game with a triple-double of his own: 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Miami went into halftime trailing 53-48, keeping the game state close thanks to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo reaching double-digit scoring figures. Caleb Martin also chipped in eight points in 16 minutes off the bench after struggling mightily the first two games, but Gabe Vincent couldn’t make an impact of his own due to three tacky fouls going against him.
Towards the end of the third quarter was when Miami’s engine started to run out against Jokic and Murray. Denver began getting production out of its role players while the Heat’s still struggled to get into the game.
Denver seized a commanding 21-point lead in the fourth when it went up 93-72, with rookie Christian Braun coming alive at a pivotal time. Miami made one last push in the final minutes, but it wasn’t enough.
Butler led Miami with 28 points on 11-for-24 shooting while Adebayo added 22 points and 17 rebounds on 7-for-21 shooting. Vincent went 2-for-10 overall (1-for-6 from deep) for seven points in 32 minutes while Max Strus struggled, too, going 1-for-7 overall (1-for-4 from deep) for three points in 24 minutes.
Braun proved to be the difference maker for the Nuggets, contributing 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting off the bench in a game where Michael Porter Jr. only tallied two points in 21 minutes on 1-for-7 shooting overall.
On Braun’s game, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone praised the Kansas product’s mentality and humble work ethic that shined on the big stage.
“It speaks to Christian’s confidence,” Malone said. “It speaks to him being a winner…he just has stayed ready throughout the year…That kid never gets too high or too low. I could just feel the confidence oozing off of him.”
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra lauded the eliteness Jokic and Murray displayed on the night but also factored in Miami’s inability to produce down low or stop it the other way. Miami allowed 60 points in the paint to just 34 of its own.
“They just pummeled us in the paint,” Spoelstra said on Denver’s 60-point showing. “They didn’t even have to shoot threes.”
Denver went just 5-for-18 from deep, good for 27%. On most nights in today’s NBA that usually results in a loss, but Miami did itself no favors by going 34-for-92 overall, a mere 37%.
“We do have to credit their size, but we’ve proven we can finish in the paint at our best,” Spoelstra said on Miami’s struggles down low. “Definitely some things we got to flag down.”
If the Heat want to better their odds of winning the series and tie it at 2-2 before heading back to Denver on Monday for Game 5, they’ll need a collective effort at home and, once again, nail the basics offensively while limiting the Nuggets’ opportunities the other way. With the form Jokic and Murray are in, it’ll take some stopping.
Game 4 is slated for Friday, with tip off set for 8:30 p.m. ET.
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